February 1866: Monroe raid
By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

Hundreds of black cavalrymen participated in
Osband’s raid. (Librry of Congress
There were no large battles in Louisiana after the Red River Campaign, but raids and skirmishes continued to ravage the state. Typical of these was Union Col. Embury D. Osband’s incursion
into northeast Louisiana in February 1865. Osband was a veteran cavalryman who had seen his share of action. During the Vicksburg Campaign, participated in Benjamin Grierson’s raid through Mississippi that was popularized by John Wayne’s 1959 movie “The Horse Soldiers.”

In early February, Osband led 3,000 cavalrymen (including the African American soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Colored Cavalry) out of Arkansas toward Monroe. Osband first stopped in Bastrop where his men seized a large number of horses, mules, and slaves. He also was told that there were 800 rebels around Oak Ridge and sent a brigade to drive them off. As it turned out, there were fewer than 60 Confederates, and they fled when the Yankees approached.

On February 3, elements of the 4th Illinois Cavalry rode into Mer Rouge and burned approximately 200,000 bushels of corn and some bales of cotton, and seized several horses, mules, and slaves. Four hundred cavalrymen continued on to Monroe, but they found the town mostly deserted and that all of the Confederate property had been moved across the Ouachita River.

Sarah Lois Wadley, who lived on the west side of the Ouachita, claimed the Yankees were well behaved for the most part but recorded in her diary some tales she heard about the enemy’s
activities:
They went to Mr. John Scarborough’s and commanded him to climb up in his smokehouse and take down a ham of meat. He answered them with a curse, and said he would not do it to save their lives. They then acted in a very insolent manner and finally knocked him down with their guns. Mrs. Scarborough became so much exasperated at
their treatment of her husband that she struck one of the Yankees in the face. She supposes that they must have also struck her, as she afterwards found her arm very much bruised, but in the excitement of the broil [sic] neither she nor her husband knew it. It appears from Mr. Gordon’s account that the people in the neighborhood were struck with a panic. Many of them moved from their houses, some into the swamp, and others stayed in some cars on the railroad, running them as far down the track as they could. . . .Willie said he heard of the Yankees insulting several ladies and burning a great deal of corn in Prairie Merouche [probably Mer Rouge]. . . . They also destroyed the distillery of a whiskey maker somewhere about there. He had had all his whiskey rolled out into the woods, and his Negroes and horses hid away. They made him tell where they were and opened all his whiskey barrels and took away his horses and Negroes, but little sympathy is felt for him and the respectable portion of the community are heartily glad that the distillery is destroyed. . . .

From Monroe, Osband moved west to Bayou Macon and confiscated and destroyed more property. Hampered by heavy rains, he finally called off the raid and headed north to Memphis.
In his report, Osband claimed to have lost just 10 men and that he had collected 450 slaves (200 of whom enlisted in the Union army), 44 rebel prisoners, and a number of Confederate deserters and refugees who chose to flee Louisiana. He considered the raid a great success because he had destroyed the supplies that supported the Confederates operating in the area. Unfortunately, it was not the rebel soldiers who suffered the most. Osband admitted, “The people have neither seed, corn, nor bread, or the mills to grind the corn in if they had it, as I burned them wherever found. . . .I have taken from these people the mules with which they would raise a crop the coming year, and burned every surplus grain of corn. . . .”

Union forces returned to Monroe twice the following month to take advantage of a Confederate policy that allowed limited cotton trade with the enemy to acquire badly needed supplies. On one occasion, two gunboats came up the Ouachita River to trade coffee, liquor, dry goods, and U.S. dollars for cotton. When four more gunboats arrived later in the month, a handful of Confederate officers accompanied them to provide safe passage. On the latter occasion, people from as far away as Homer came to the river to trade cotton for essential items. For these desperate people, survival trumped supporting a lost cause.

Source: Suzanne Wadley Rhodenbaugh, ed., Sarah’s Civil War: The Edited Diary, 1859-1865, of Sarah Lois Wadley (St. Louis: Bluebird Publishing Company, 2012)

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.

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